How to Let Go of Expectations & Why It’s Important

There’s one thing a lot of people often find hard to let go of–expectations.

When our reality does not match our expectations, most of us would feel disappointed, frustrated; our minds react negatively.

So, how does one let go of certain expectations in life? Why is it so important?

Kimberly M. Daniels, Psy.D.

Kimberly M. Daniels

Clinical Psychologist | Founder, Your Weight is NOT Your Worth

I talk about expectations a lot with my clients! I find it extremely important to clarify with clients that often it isn’t the person or the situation that is upsetting. It’s the unmet expectation they had of that person or situation that is upsetting.

Take weight (since that’s what I work the most). A number on a scale itself means nothing. But if you expect to be a certain weight and you aren’t, that’s when you become upset. So helping my clients to understand their expectations of others, of situations, and of themselves is very important.

How to let them go is another challenge.

You have to know you had expectations, to begin with

I don’t think we tend to realize how many expectations we have. We have expectations of everything–the sun will rise, our car will start, we’ll make it work safely, people will treat us about the same as they did the day before.

Most of our expectations are pretty benign. But when we get upset about something, that’s when we know that we probably had an expectation that wasn’t met. So this is good evidence that we need to examine our expectations.

Once we realize we have expectations, we can start to let them go

And we can do this by figuring out where they came from. Was it really my expectation? Or did someone else convince me that this is the way it should be? Do I have this expectation because I’ve had a pattern of the same outcome? Did I go way outside the box and think something may happen that wasn’t at all likely?

Where our expectations come from can help us let them go.

Often, they aren’t really ours at all. Taking weight for example again. We live in a society where thin is the gold standard. We’re told we’re supposed to want that at all costs. Our doctors tell us what our weight is “supposed” to be. Often, the expectation of our weight isn’t about us at all. And once we realize that, we can just let it go.

If we discover that we have an expectation that we’ve really bought into, it can be very difficult to let go of. It can definitely be a grieving process.

For example, if I always expected to be married by age 40 but am not, it’s going to take some time to let go of that. It’s going to mean grieving over the loss of what wasn’t. If I expect to be 150 pounds because that’s how I feel good physically and emotionally but I just can’t get there, I’m going to have to grieve that reality as well.

Once we make it through that grief process, we can focus on what is realistic and what is happening right here, right now

Expectations are often about the future. When we focus so much on the future, we aren’t living our lives right now. By letting go of expectations we can be more present and more fully involved in our daily lives. Which helps us to stop creating more expectations!

Rob Magill, MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAP, LPCTBHI

Robert Magill

Certified Telebehavioral Health Practitioner, Magill Counseling

Expectations can set us up in pretty powerful ways. Have you ever seen great previews about a movie only to realize those two minutes were the only good parts of the movie? Yeah, that’s a letdown.

Or have you ever watched previews and thought the movie wasn’t worth it. But your friends wanted to go so you do. And the movie was great! That is the power of expectations.

Expectations can set us up to be disappointed, angry, frustrated, etc. if things don’t go how we anticipate they will. But no one knows the future. Our expectations will be wrong some times. So what do we do then? Being able to let go of expectations is a good approach.

  • Recognize you have expectations.
  • Understand what you want from the situation and why you want it.
  • Prepare emotionally for the expectation to not be met, but don’t loose hope the expectation could happen.
  • Go into the situation without demanding a particular outcome.
  • Be open to how the situation unfolds.
  • Afterward, review your expectations and the situation. How did they match up, if at all?

Adina Mahalli

Adina-Mahalli

Certified Mental Health Consultant | Relationship Expert, Enlightened Reality

Accept the things you can’t control and move forward

The truth is that as hard as it is to let go of control, there’s simply no way of knowing what life will throw your way. When reality doesn’t match your expectations, not only is it disappointing, but it can also be frustrating and lead to a sense of cynicism towards the world around you.

This doesn’t mean that you should be walking around with a pessimistic outlook on life. Instead, you’re able to look towards events positively knowing that if things don’t go exactly as planned, or the unexpected happens, you’re able to accept that and move forward regardless of the outcome.

Essentially letting go of expectations is about not getting hung up on things that don’t work out ‘your way’. This is important for living a serene, happy life that isn’t weighed down by ‘what if’s’.

Suzanne Wylde

Suzanne Wylde

Holistic Coach

Have faith in yourself

I have noticed that expectations are very limiting for people because they are an attempt at control by the part of us that is fearful.

We are trying to predict what will happen in an effort to prepare ourselves perhaps, or to replay a familiar dynamic or situation.

Letting the fearful aspect of ourselves set the agenda for how we are viewing reality is a liability because if things play out in a different way, we can lose our sense of self and with it our balance, confidence, and spontaneity, among other things.

On the other hand, if we can just be in a situation without needing to know how it will play out, we can be fully present, aware and grounded. We can have fun and be happy even if things do not go our way, we can be creative when new problems arise and we can continue to like ourselves even if we are not always able to control how we come across to others or what we can achieve.

I have often come up against the brittle rigidity of going into a situation with strong expectations, only to have them shatter and take with it my happiness, poise, and ability to be present. For myself and many others, it is a defense mechanism, an attempt to defend ourselves from uncertainty and vulnerability. Yet it leaves us vulnerable as soon as anything changes.

The most secure place to put our peace of mind and sense of self is in our center. Then, no matter what changes, we will be able to adapt, like ourselves, self-express and think clearly. We are running in line with reality, rather than being guided by an idea of a reality we have constructed in our heads and then the dissonance when that fails to materialize exactly. Just being ourselves, in what is.

The best way to do this is by having faith in ourselves, understanding that although feeling in complete control is an illusion – we can always choose how to respond and through trusting that what we need will come to us, even though it may not be in the way we expect.

Adam Cole

Adam Cole

Jazz Musician | Writer

Expectations and goal-setting are vital for the accomplishment of any task. “Beginning with the end in mind,” as Steven Covey puts it, can solve a great many problems along the way. However, expectations can also intrude on progress.

When the goal overtakes everything else, the process can be tainted. In the first place, we lose our sense of awareness of what’s happening at the moment. This can prevent us from adjusting as we get off track, or even deviating into something better than we were previously capable of envisioning.

Letting go of expectations is best done by not letting go of them completely! Keep the goal in mind, write it somewhere and lock it up in a drawer, then move in its general direction.

Learning to hold the goal in the back of your thoughts is a little like sailing, keeping the land in sight but going where the wind takes you.